Throughout December, we take a look at this year’s top five drivers, with a review of their performance, their season statistics and some thoughts from the men themselves. Up next: Jari-Matti Latvala.
2014 Vital Statistics – Jari-Matti Latvala
|Drivers’ Championship position:||2nd|
|Drivers' Championship points:||218|
|Stage wins (from a season total of 249):||85|
|Power Stage points:||25|
2014 in summary: Consistently Sebastien Ogier’s closest rival, Latvala exuded a calmer, more focused approach than in previous seasons, when he could alternate between a state of rally euphoria and despairing over-analysis. Now supported by mental trainer Christoph Treier, who used to work with Marcus Gronholm, Latvala got off to a solid start in Monte, and followed this with a third Rally Sweden victory to move into the lead of the drivers’ standings for the first time in his career.
Mexico was a rally he could never win from first on the road, but a mature drive to second kept him in the thick of the title battle. Sadly, the momentum took a knock in Portugal, where he suffered his fourth crash in six years, but in Argentina his confidence shot sky-high after he beat Ogier in a head-to-head fight for the first time since becoming team-mates. He held Ogier off in Sardegna too, until a rock-strike dropped him to third. Rock damage cost him a decent finish in Poland as well, but on home ground in Finland he roared back to his best. His speed left Ogier flailing, and when a broken brake caliper threatened to allow the Frenchman through for an unlikely win, Latvala showed determination and bottle to hold him off.
He almost won in Germany too, until one small pace note error on the final day brought about his only retirement of the season. It was a devastating blow - and effectively ended his title bid - but he bounced back in Australia and then took a dominant victory in France - his first on asphalt. His title hopes were extinguished finally when he finished second in Spain - an event he needed to win - but finishing the season second to Ogier, and delivering four wins for Volkswagen, he will start 2015 in the best shape yet to challenge for the title.
To sum it up: This was Latvala’s most impressive season to date, and the point at which his mental strength finally caught up with his skills behind the wheel.
Q: Best moment of the season?
J-ML: “Victory in Finland.”
Q: Your biggest near-disaster of the season?
J-ML: “That was Finland too - when I got the brake problem. I had a 30-second lead and when we got the problem there were three stages left to go. I called my engineer and I was furious because I thought we were going to lose the position. I was desperate. But a phone call with Christoph Treier, my mental trainer, turned it around. It made me positive and gave me the strength to work it out.”
Q: What are you most looking forward to next year?
J-ML: “It will be interesting to see how the new start order system will affect the championship – to see if it will make things more equal, or bring more winners.”
Q: Your best party of 2014?
J-ML: “Rally Argentina.”